We were able to celebrate a big win on our production side shortly before the pandemic hit last spring. Our Bemidji division was awarded a new federal contract at the end of 2019 to powder coat, assemble, and fulfill orders on folding metal padded and standard chairs.
This chair project was a year in the making. Ongoing research into additional revenue streams to fill additional capacity and floor space in the Bemidji production building uncovered a unique opportunity to add a new product line. Expansion potential would be easy to integrate into current capabilities, with all signs indicating it was a no-brainer for ODC.
Contract negotiations took place over the course of 2019, and were finalized around Christmas. Happy holidays for the production team, but the celebration was brief as there was much work to be done. The new year would bring not only the normal challenges of adapting processes and training employees on a new production line, but an unpredictable new world of supply chain interruptions and staffing issues brought on by a global pandemic.
Contract orders started delivering in March 2020. Our manufacturing partner, Virco, is a leading U.S.manufacturer of office and school furniture. ODC is proud to be supporting American manufacturing through this partnership. These folding metal chairs, historically best sellers for GSA, were off the market for over a year before our contract was finalized. We were looking forward to serving customers once again with the quality product they had come to expect from years previous.
What does our production process look like? Our cycle begins with loading the raw steel chairs supplied by Virco onto racks for easy maneuvering across the production floor. Each rack holds 16 chairs. The chairs are then washed to remove oils that prevent rusting during transport. Once dry, each rack of chairs is then powder coated.
While all of this is going on, we have a team making pads for our padded chair orders. Customer favorites, these chairs feature a seat pad and a padded back rest. Pad components include the wood board base (supplied by local business Northwest Cabinets), foam for support, and a gray upholstery vinyl carefully matched to the gray coating of the chair. Using pneumatic presses, the pad layers are assembled then compressed to staple the vinyl to the base to contain the foam that shapes the pad. They are then trimmed and set aside for final assembly.
After the coating process, the chairs are unloaded in the assembly area where they are assembled and packaged for shipment. If they are padded, the pads are added at this time, in addition to plugging and capping the legs. Final packaged product contains four chairs per pack, with single packs available to fill out order numbers. These chairs are soon shipped worldwide to government and military bases, consulates, schools, vessels and other federal buildings.
A benefit for ODC production is being able to allocate work between divisions as staffing and work demands change. Pads have been produced both in Bemidji and at Buhl. Unique capabilities at each production site allow options for accommodating many needs in-house, leveraging the expertise and strengths of our team members.
The press machines for making the pads were developed in-house as well. Keith Willard, Bemidji Division Manager, designed and developed the initial prototype. After some modifications, he then welded together three additional machines that improved upon that first concept. Adapting these machines to be safe, accessible and easy for all to use is something that Keith takes into careful consideration when developing equipment, workflows, and training for staff learning new skills.
Throughout the year, our employees have been actively engaged in improving the production process. Cross training between stations and designing workflows to maximize ergonomic benefit have contributed to a work environment that actively fosters excellence.
“What we do here is we take projects and make them better and make it work,” Keith said of the Bemidji division. “We have wonderful employees and a really good, solid team here.”
A rack of standard chairs are ready to be coated after being washed and dried.
Powder coating is being applied to a rack of chairs.
Coated standard chairs ready for final assembly and packaging.
A crew member constructs a back pad at an assembly station. Upholstery vinyl is wrapped around a sheet of foam and wood backboard, kept in place with a hydraulic piston, and stapled together.
Powder coated padded chairs await pad installation.
The back pad is fastened into place with three short screws, while the seat pad is pushed in and held by Christmas tree clips along its perimeter.
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